What if: could it take this to see a move of God in the West?

It’s 1983: Tony and I are in Seoul, South Korea. The insurance money from a burglary has given us the excuse to visit Tony’s parents in Hong Kong. We’ve left our kids with them while we visit the largest church in the world–at that time around 350,000 members–where Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho is the pastor. When we get there, the temperature is fifteen degrees below freezing, and with no heating in the church guest facilities (we are the only visitors crazy enough to go at that time of year) we need to go out frequently to warm up.

One of our outings is to the administrative building of the church. We are wandering around the offices, reveling in the central heating, when a man approaches us.

“Would you like to visit with Dr. Cho?”

I have to admit that my first thought is “I’m not dressed appropriately” (jeans and boots and as many layers as I can fit on)!

We have about twenty minutes with this humble man of God. Towards the end of our conversation he says he would like us to communicate three things to our nation. The first two concern prayer and fasting. It’s the third I’ve never forgotten.

“Tell your nation to empower your women. You people in the West will never see a move of God until you use your women.”

Dr. Cho attributes the phenomenal growth of his cell church in part to the fact that he empowers women–47,000 of his 50,000 cells are led by women and two thirds of his 600 associate pastors are women.

Could this be true? In those nations where there’s currently a massive harvest being reaped, women are a vital part of what is going on, being used by God in extraordinary ways. Is our  misunderstanding of the Scriptures and our legalistic following of the letter of the law concerning women actually preventing a move of the Holy Spirit here? When women are relegated to supporting men, the body of Christ is robbed of half its potential.

The group of women I work with spent some months looking at the role of women in revivals. We were investigating whether women in strategic leadership positions have any impact on revivals. One of our conclusion was this: there are classically two types of revival. Some are over very quickly (think Wales, Hebrides, Indonesia etc) while others last for decades (China, Korea, Wesley and Methodism, Zinzendorf and the Moravians). Our conclusion? Those that last for decades empower their women.

What could happen in the West if women were encouraged to step into their full potential without the usual restrictions placed on them? Could this release a move of God?

What do you think?

Photo credit: Christopher Jetton (Creative Commons)

The hemiplegic bride

The body of Christ in the West is hemiplegic. Hemiplegia is a medical term used to describe paralysis down one side of the body, for example, after a stroke. The body of Christ is present in our churches, but half of it–the female half–is significantly weakened.

Where are the women apostles? Where are the women who are prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers? Where are the female role models who dare to do great exploits for the Kingdom of God?  I’m grateful to count several like these as my friends, but in general, women in any form of strategic church leadership in the West are conspicuous by their absence.

It’s not that way in other parts of the world.

  • In China, around 80% of house churches are planted by ordinary women
  • In India there is a significant harvest being reaped by women of all castes. Two years ago, I met two women–ordinary, middle aged housewives–one of whom was responsible for starting 2,000 churches and the other, 6,000 churches.
  • In many nations where there is restricted access for the gospel, women are planting churches–they have easy access to homes and naturally share their testimony with others, pray for the sick and demonized and find persons of peace.

If women can do it in other nations, why not here in the West?

Are there women in this country who are willing to break out of the stereotypical role assigned to them by tradition? Who will follow the Great Shepherd into the harvest? Who will dare to break out of their boxes of convention, who will color outside the lines of expectation.

If God is using women in extraordinary ways elsewhere, (and he is) then why not here too.

Photo credit: Vici-Jane

Church Transfusion: Can a legacy church involve in organic church life?

I often get asked questions about whether or not it’s possible for a more traditional legacy church to become involved in organic/simple/house church life. Thankfully, I now have a resource to point them to.

 

I just finished reading  Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically–From the Inside Out  by Neil Cole and Phil Helfer. Neil is a good friend, and I appreciate just about everything he has written. He’s had a huge impact on church planting both in this country and internationally. I don’t know Phil as well, but he works closely with Neil and I understand he has a legacy church that embodies organic principles.

I was a little concerned that in tackling this question Neil might be tempted to compromise on some of the principles he and we hold dear. I needn’t have worried. The book enumerates organic principles of multiplication and then applies them to the legacy church context:

  • The way to get big is to go small
  • The way to go fast is to start slow
  • The way to be strong is to become weak
  • The way to becoming rich is to give everything away.
  • The way to be first is to be last
  • The way to live is to die

I highly recommend this book to anyone in a legacy church who is wondering whether they can somehow move in more organic ways within a traditional context. Neil and Phil lay out the principles involved, giving practical suggestions as to how to grandparent organic movements by training and releasing church members into the harvest. A must read.

 

The easiest way to plant a house church

It’s probably not what you think!

Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.

This is not the best way for several reasons:

  1. The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the church!”
  2. It is more difficult to be missional–existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
  3. You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together outside of meetings.
  4. Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.

It is far easier to make disciples of those who don’t yet know the Lord, and to work within their existing sphere of influence. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches are the natural result. The advantages:

  1. The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
  2. Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
  3. New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
  4. It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.

What has been your experience?  Can you think of other reasons to primarily work with not-yet-believers?

Photo Credit: Tense (Creative Commons)

 

 

Greet the Church in Your House

Victor Choudhrie is one of my beloved “fathers in the Lord.” In 1992, even while a renowned cancer surgeon in India,  the Lord told Victor to stop medicine and start planting churches. The results in the past few years have been extraordinary.  One of the most outstanding disciple making movements of our day is going on in India under his loving oversight. This church planting movement has seen more than 1 million baptisms in the last decade.

Some years ago, Victor wrote a book called Greet the Ekklesia, which I had the privilege of editing. (It was a privilege because it meant that I studied every sentence very carefully to make sure it made sense, and therefore I had to understand at a gut level the principles he was enumerating. Anything I didn’t understand, I emailed Victor until we both knew that I had the meaning right. ) Victor has since updated the book, and it has been made available for the Kindle. I was asked to write the foreword.

Greet the church in your house is not a comfortable read. Victor challenges all our nice presuppositions about church and what it means to live as a follower of Jesus.  But if we, here in the West, want to learn the secrets of rapid church multiplication, we do well to learn from a master.

Here are two of the endorsements for the book by David Garrison and Floyd McClung:

Dr. Choudhrie’s “Greet the Church in Your House” ruffled more than a few feathers when it first appeared in 1999. Defenders of traditional church planting and mission models found the book’s ideas iconoclastic and deeply troubling. I first met Dr. Victor Choudhrie in 2002, while serving as a missionary in India. Even before that, though, I seemed to hear his name from everyone who was seeing multiplying movements of new churches in India. All roads to movements seemed to pass through Dr. Choudhrie’s influence. Victor and Bindu’s passion for the unreached and deep insights into Scriptural models for the Christian life, made them natural gurus for generations of young missionaries and local church planters who wanted to see fidelity to New Testament patterns and the dynamism that accompanied it in their own ministries. The Choudhrie’s did not disappoint.

Despite whatever grumblings accompanied Dr. Choudhrie’s “Greet the Church in Your House” many readers also found his ideas strangely familiar. Weren’t these the same images of church that emerged from the pages of the New Testament? Wasn’t this the vibrant life of faith promised by Christ and His apostles?

Though exegetical in nature, Choudhrie’s writings have never been limited to biblical exegesis. A Bible expositor, Dr. Choudhrie is also a pioneer church planter and mentor of church-planting movements. This on-the-ground experience keeps his ideas fresh and relevant to missionaries and church planters who need real-life applications to the biblical lessons they’ve learned all their life.

Choudhrie describes his training as a medical school model. Just as medical students are rigorously steeped in the doctrines of their profession, so too must today’s church planter master the faith handed down to the saints once for all. However, no medical student’s training is complete without practical skill development and mentoring by seasoned elders.

It is small wonder that Dr. Choudhrie’s writings have inspired a new generation of pioneer missionaries and church planters to press on to the fulfillment of our Lord’s Great Commission. I personally would not consider the pursuit of an indigenous movement of multiplying churches in South Asia without first consulting this wonderful mentor and friend.

David Garrison, PhD–missionary, author Church Planting Movements

Greet the Church in Your House is a radical, hard hitting plea to examine how we do church in order to change how we do church – for the sake of reaching the lost. Victor Choudhrie is a prophet crying in the wilderness – a voice from India that pleads with us to heed the call of Jesus to a new covenant and a new way of being God’s people.

Floyd McClung – author You See Bones, I See an Army: changing the way we do church

The church moves West (part 2)

The focus of Christian missions has historically moved west. This is the second of a three part series (here is part one) looking at this phenomenon, and is part of the foreword I have written to a new Kindle book, Greet the Church in Your House.  by Victor Choudhrie, due out in September. This book details the principles behind one of the greatest disciple making movements of our time.

 

This is a photo of Tony and me standing on the very harbor wall in Turkey (Seleucia) from which Paul and Barnabas left with John Mark to sail west on their first missionary journey. The harbor is now silted up and the harbor wall is about 100 yards inland.

 

While all this was going on in Europe, the epicenter of Christianity was sailing west across the Atlantic to the United States.  Waves of revival spread across the land as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney preached to huge crowds. In 1906, the Pentecostal Movement began in Azusa Street in Los Angeles and spread rapidly throughout the world. The United States became the great missionary-sending nation.

But even as Christianity waned in Europe and began its decline in the United States, the center of Christianity was moving west again. Initially this was hidden. When the Communists overtook China in the late 1940s, threw out the missionaries, closed the churches and jailed its leaders, everyone wondered whether the church could possibly survive. When the bamboo curtain finally lifted, the world was amazed to see the church had thrived and multiplied. Ordinary people, mainly women and children, rather than trained preachers, were spreading the Gospel, and churches were starting everywhere in the homes of ordinary people. Small and hidden, the good news was spreading like yeast in a lump of dough.

Again the focal point of the church moved west. Via Korea and the cell church movement, it has moved on to India where the Choudhries and many others like them are seeing similar growth to China. Here God is restoring disciple-making and house church planting, not as a matter of necessity because of persecution, but as a deliberate policy with well-understood theological and ecclesiological reasoning. An emphasis on the Kingdom is producing marked changes in the local community too. As other nations hear what is transpiring in India, they are inviting men and women from India to come and infect their own lands with what Jesus is doing.

Part three to follow…

Commercial fishing (part 2)


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As I investigated the Scriptures on the subject of commercial fishing in the Gospels, several things became apparent.  There are several passages that talk about fishing:

  • Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-19  Jesus calls the four disciples who are fishermen and tells them he will make them fishers of men.
  • Luke 5:1-11  Jesus tells the disciples who had fished all night but caught nothing to put down their nets again into the deep and they catch two boatloads of fish
  • John 21:3-11  After Jesus’ resurrection, seven of the disciples go fishing.  Again Jesus tells them where to cast their nets and they catch 153 large fish
  • Matthew 17: 24-27  Peter uses a rod and line to catch a fish that has money for the temple tax in its mouth.

There is obviously more than one way the disciples are fishing.  In the Luke example, they were in a boat and let down their nets.  In the John example, they throw out their nets.  In the Matthew and Mark examples they were fishing from the shore.  Further investigation reveals that although in English the word net is used in every example, in the Greek, different words are used signifying different types of nets.  For example, in the Matthew and Mark examples a specific purse net is described.

Commercial fisherman (which is what the disciples were) would have understood that you use different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and the kind of fish you want to catch.

So in terms of the harvest where we are fishers of men, there may be different ways that we approach  “catching fish.”  What may work in other nations may not be best here in the West

There is one more passage.  This comes in Matthew 13 where Jesus tells a parable.  The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net (literally a dragnet or seine which is a type of net used to catch large numbers of fish) let down into the water…

The question I am pondering these days is, “How do we ‘let the kingdom of heaven’ down into the community around us?  Especially here in the West where people are jaded and inoculated against the Gospel.  What kind of fishing net will catch a multitiude of fish?

Any ideas?